The Traub Motorcycle

In 1967 a plumber was called to a house in a suburb of Chicago USA to repair a water leak. He had to remove part of a basement wall to do so and behind it he found a motorcycle.

According to the history of the building the machine had apparently been there since 1916 without any of the subsequent property owners knowing about it

Themotorcycle had the name Traub painted in script on the petrol tank and on the timing cover in Gothic with ‘Traub’ embossed on the bottom of its crank case.

The Traub turned out to be one of the rarest models of motorcycle ever made and it transpired that it is the only one in existence and likely the only one ever made.

Various experts examined the motorcycle and declared it was brilliantly engineered and that its construction was well ahead of its time. It also didn’t take much to get the bike running even after sitting in the darkness for half a century. The engine seemed virtually new and there didn’t appear to be a spot of rust on the orange and butterscotch-brown paint; even the white tyres looked to be still in good condition.

Historians and researchers were initially baffled as to who it was that had created this fabulous machine.

Researchers did discover one story and that was about a previous owner of the house whose son had allegedly stolen the motor cycle from the machine’s owner in 1916.

The father was so outraged at the theft that he made his son enlist in the Army and he was sent to fight in Europe in one of the First World War battlefields.

Prior to leaving however and unbeknown to his father, the son hid the stolen machine behind an internal wall in the belief that he could retrieve it after he returned from fighting for his country. Tragically he perished and the motorcycle remained hidden for over 50 years.

Insert picture of Traub m/cycle.

This was however just one of many theories told about the hidden motorcycle and even this story is questionable as the machine when it was found had a 1918 registration plate.

Whilst the identity of the Traub's creator has been frustrating historians for some years, it’s now believed the motorcycles creator had the name of Gottlieb Richard Traub and that he was born in America but was of German descent.

Further local research revealed that a “Richard Traub” had sent a letter in July 1907 to the editor of Motorcycle Illustrated, a popular magazine of the time, describing his homemade four-horsepower motorcycle and giving his address as North Paulina St, Chicago, USA.

“Dear Sir, Please find the enclosed picture and specifications of a motorcycle made by myself throughout engine and all. I worked on this cycle about one year, putting in the time only between 7 pm and 11 pm. I also worked on Sundays”.

Its specifications are – Wheelbase, 55 inches; tank capacity, 3 1/2 gallons gasoline, 1 gallon oil, sufficient for 125 miles; power, 4 horsepower; bore and stroke 3 1/4 by 4 inches; auxiliary gasoline tank, 1/2 gallon; speed, more than the roads will stand; perfect grip control; throttle and spark motor is geared 3 3/4 to 1; it has a cycle chain with washers and does good service; has never troubled me yet, and I rode all of 1,500 miles."

Research into the 1910 Chicago census showed that a 27-year-old Gottlieb Richard Traub did indeed live at 1520 North Paulina St, Chicago listing him occupation as a toolmaker in a factory. Interestingly on Gottliebs’ 1917/18 WWI Army draft registration card it was stated that he was a self-employed experimental machinist. Further enquiries revealed this address was an attached garage located at the back of the 1520 North Paulina Street residence and not far from where the hidden Traub was discovered.

American historians suggest that this privateer with the name of Traub could be German, certainly a skilful machinist and quite possibly a gunsmith with access to a foundry and boring and milling equipment.

He was certainly one of more than a hundred enthusiasts, many of them immigrants that had opened small shops and garages all over the U.S.A to build and sell motorcycles. Only three of these companies namely Harley Davidson, Indian and Excelsior actually survive today.

Experts suggest Traub's technology was decades ahead of other motorcycles produced at the time. The machine for example had a single rear brake drum with both expanding and contracting brake shoes operated by a single cam.

The Traub could also easily reach 85 mph with its 80 cubic inch V-twin engine yielding a capacity of 1,278cc which was huge compared with other machines of the time. For example, the 1919 Indian Scout was 745cc and the 1919 Harley-Davidson Model W was 584cc.

Soon after the Traub Motorcycle’s discovery, a Chicago motorcycle dealer named Torello Tacchi exchanged his $700 Suzuki for the Traub which he subsequently restored to near perfect condition.

In 1972 stunt motorcycle rider Bud Ekins made famous as movie star and as Steve McQueen’s stuntman, purchased the Traub from Tacchi and later sold it to California bike collector Richard Morris. It was then sold to Dale Walksler to add to his ‘Wheels through time’ Museum collection of 240 classic American motorcycles. The 106 year old Traub still apparently gets ridden on a fairly regular basis and Walksler has even had the engine apart to cure a knocking noise that turned out to be a worn out connecting rod bush.

When he stripped the machine Walksler described the components inside the engine to be ‘magnificent’. The pistons were clearly handmade with gap-less cast iron rings. Indeed during the reassembly process, the only parts he had to fabricate were the cylinder base gaskets. Extraordinarily the bike didn’t use any other gaskets anywhere else in the engine. Walksler described the engineering and machining of the Traub were simply years ahead of its time.

There were a few “off-the-shelf” parts such as a Schebler carburettor, a Bosch magneto, a Troxel Jumbo seat and period wheel rims all of which allowed Walksler to determine its approximate date of build at 1916. Its transmission was believed to have been supplied by Thor* motorcycles and the engines only weakness appeared to be its rather flimsy valve springs.

*Thor motorcycles supplied both engines and transmissions to many motorcycle manufacturers of that era.

Having heard the story about the Traub motorcycle, an American Frank Traub did make contact with its new owner suggesting that he was born in 1957 and coincidentally lived near to the Traub motorcycle shop in North Paulina Street in Chicago. That said it could not have been anything to do with his family as his father only arrived in the USA from Europe in 1955. His stepfather had however been a plumber!

Most of the classic motorcycle experts who know about the Traub story today now seem satisfied that Gottlieb Richard Traub did make the machine but sadly there is no real police evidence or confirmation of this unique machine ever being reported stolen or mentioned in any police reports that could indicate that Traub tried to locate his missing motorcycle.

Many of the theories surrounding the Traub motorcycle must remain a mystery as Gottlieb Richard Traub took them with him to his grave when he died in 1952.

I would like to thank a couple of retired police officers and vintage motorcycle enthusiasts from Chicago Police Department for their help in authenticating this story for me.


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